The family is like the trampoline from which we jump into life. Inevitably a part of us will become our parents.
I remember looking at my father’s body at the beach when I was a teenager and promising myself that I would never become that. Funny enough, it takes constant awareness and hard work, otherwise the body goes back to the path of least resistance… genetic conditioning. On the psychological level it works the same. We can choose which aspects of our parents we want to cultivate and which to avoid. To a certain extent I am attracted to the idea that we choose our parents, and that therefore we come specifically to grow and learn through that particular channel.
I consider myself lucky that way. My father wasn’t quite ready to be a parent, and, like most men of his generation, he left my education and care to my mother. He was always a good and kind friend, though, and I know he loved me dearly. From him I received the gifts of valuing education, the arts, fine food and wine, good conversation, theater, elegance and dignity. Bad habits of his that I watch for in myself are lack of integrity, womanizing, gambling, smoking excessively and not taking care of the body.
My mother… I adored the woman. From her I got the foundation for a positive outlook on life, love of people, faith in myself, open channels to deep creativity, gratitude for every moment and a deep spirituality not connected with any religion or ideology of any kind. The kind of spirituality that acknowledges the miracle of life without a need to name it, understand it, organize it, let alone force it on anybody else.
She was the daughter of a prominent communist leader, and so she grew up in an environment of uncertainty and danger, her father spending long periods in jail or in hiding. She had deep innate artistic abilities that were discouraged for being “burgeois”, but she never gave in and became an amazing artist. I grew up surrounded by crazy painters and intellectuals, who would show up at night to play poker, chat, smoke and drink until the wee hours. I was an only child, born out of a car accident that had the effect of instantly changing the mind of both my parents about never having a child.
I had a vivid imagination and could entertain myself for hours with comics, books or toy soldiers. I would enact my own movies, complete with dramatic dialogue and soundtrack, to the point that some of my mother’s friends would stay for a while with their ear to my door enjoying my improvised creations.
In that time people hardly locked their doors. The kids in my building (three floors with two apartments per floor) were one family and we grew up together as a little gang. We owned our street. There was only one girl, and six boys. It’s a miracle that she wasn’t profoundly traumatized by her childhood with us.
These were the times when musicians such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and John Coltrane were revolutionizing music. A little later Bob Dylan, Hendrix, The Beatles and the whole psychedelic movement had a deep impact on the world and particularly my generation. When I was still little I would stand at the door of the restaurant at the corner of my street, and sing Beatles songs at the top of my lungs, without the slightest idea of what I was saying, in exchange for food or drink (not that we were poor, but the food there was delicious, and doing that gave me a great sense of independence and accomplishment). Later when I went to to English school and became fluent, I had a good laugh at the sounds I was producing instead of the real lyrics.
I grew up two blocks from the beach, and from a young age we could all swim like dolphins, with complete disregard to the pollution in the water, which I believe gave us a really good jump start for a strong immune system.
The ocean was the great presence, always there, sending sounds, smells and fresh wind on my face most of the year. My first kiss was by the ocean… Whenever you needed to see the horizon you walked down to the beach and sat quietly while couples walked by and those talking a leisurely stroll floated by with contented faces. The Rambla (the avenue that flows along the beach) would be full of cars cruising and across the Rambla a miriad cafes and apartments with people having mate, tea or coffee in their balconies. The air was always festive. Montevideo is pretty well surrounded by beach and ocean, so even if you are downtown you are never far from a relaxing moment in front of the great presence of the sea.
During most summers throughout my childhood we would rent a house in some town by the beach, an hour or two from the city. I loved to roam the endless pine tree forests, and long walks with my mother in the endless stretches of white sand, singing Brazilian songs or talking about life. It’s funny… even though I know that I had always friends nearby and would hang out and play with them often, my fondest and clearest memories are times spent alone or with my mother.
I grew up very thin and sensitive… a bit of a poet and from very early on in love with music. Until I discovered martial arts I felt vulnerable and insecure about my body, echoes of feelings which I carry until today.